NBC News announced on Wednesday morning that longtime Today show host Matt Lauer had been fired by the network for “inappropriate sexual conduct.” His abrupt dismissal stems from a complaint filed by an employee accusing Lauer, one of the most recognizable faces in morning television, of “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace,” according to an internal memo from NBC News chief Andy Lack that was obtained by CNN. According to Lack, the complaint, which came to NBC’s attention on Tuesday, was the first ever lodged against Lauer during his 20-year tenure at the Peacock Network, but he added that executives had reason to believe there may be other incidents.
A report published later Wednesday by Variety shed light on Lauer’s conduct behind the scenes at NBC, including allegations made by three different NBC employees. According to the report, which Variety said had been in the works for two months and drew on conversations with former and current Today show staffers in addition to his accusers, who requested anonymity, Lauer had a reputation for lewd behavior. He was accused of once giving a female colleague a sex toy along with a salacious note describing what he’d like to do with it. Another employee said Lauer called her into his office and took out his penis, then castigated her for not wanting to engage in a sex act. Speaking of his office, the report said Lauer had a startling modification made so he could lock his office door without ever leaving the chair behind his desk.
A former Today show producer said Lauer exploited his position as the face of NBC’s morning show. “There were a lot of consensual relationships, but that’s still a problem because of the power he held,” the producer, who has first-hand knowledge of the dalliances, told Variety. “He couldn’t sleep around town with celebrities or on the road with random people, because he’s Matt Lauer and he’s married. So he’d have to do it within his stable, where he exerted power, and he knew people wouldn’t ever complain.”
News of Lauer’s termination was delivered by a visibly shaken Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb at the top of Wednesday’s edition of the show. “This is a sad morning at Today and NBC News,” Guthrie told viewers. “As I’m sure you can understand, we are devastated. I’m heartbroken for Matt. He is my dear, dear colleague.” She added that she’d just learned of his firing moments before going on the air. “How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?” Watch the tense moment below.
Al Roker was also noticeably upset by the development as well. “I’m still trying to process the news,” he said as he delivered the weather report, according to The New York Times. Behind the scenes, employees of the morning show were clearly rocked by the development. News photos by Getty Images showed staffers at the Today show embracing as they absorbed Wednesday’s shocking turn of events. Lauer had been co-anchoring the show, a cash cow for NBC, since 1997.
Lack didn’t provide specifics about the incident or the accuser. But according to a report by The New York Post, Lauer’s swift dismissal concerned an incident that took place at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Post cited an anonymous source inside NBC who claimed that the network’s human resources department had received a sexual misconduct complaint from an employee. “This happened so quickly. She didn’t go to the media, she made a complaint to NBC’s human resources, and her evidence was so compelling that Matt was fired on Tuesday night,” the Post quoted the NBC insider as having said. “The victim says she has evidence that this has also happened to other women, but so far we don’t have evidence of that.”
A report from The New York Times seems to confirm that account. The Times published a statement from the lawyer representing the woman, who has yet to be identified. Times reporters also met with the woman, but she said she’s not ready to publicly come forward yet. “My client and I met with representatives from NBC’s Human Resources and Legal Departments at 6 p.m. on Monday for an interview that lasted several hours. Our impression at this point is that NBC acted quickly, as all companies should, when confronted with credible allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace,”Ari Wilkenfeld said in the statement given to the Times.
According to CNN, reporters at The New York Times had been working in recent weeks on an investigative story about claims against Lauer. Following Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, and Charlie Rose, among others, Lauer is the latest media figure to fall amid a growing reckoning about sexual harassment and assault in the American workplace, and perhaps the most high-profile of all.
In September, Lauer conducted an interview with Bill O’Reilly on the Today show. O’Reilly, who was dismissed by Fox News from his top-rated prime-time cable show in April amid a sexual harassment scandal, talked with Lauer about his the circumstances surrounding his firing. The interview went on for nearly nine minutes and Lauer grilled the former Fox News host about his behavior at the network and O’Reilly’s claims that all of the women who have accused him are lying.
“Think about those five women,” Lauer said to O’Reilly. “They came forward and filed complaints about the biggest star at the network they worked at. Think of how intimidating that must’ve been — how nerve-racking that must’ve been.”
Lauer made another remark that eerily now applies to situation he now finds himself in. Making a point about how gravely the network must’ve viewed the allegations, he told O’Reilly, “You were probably last guy in the world they [Fox News] wanted to fire.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated where the alleged sexual assault took place. It reportedly occurred in at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, not the Summer Olympics in Rio.